by Andrea Dorbu

You woke up extra early this morning to pick out the perfect outfit for the first day of your freshman year. As One Direction blasts from the radio, you carefully do your hair in the mirror, making sure to avoid any strays and eagerly apply a liberal amount of makeup because Mom just allowed you to start wearing it only a few months ago. So long to middle school and gone are the days of being seen as a child; after all, you are technically a teenager now and can do “teenager things”. Breakfast is the usual milk and overly processed cereal but you don’t care because in about an hour you will be surrounded by new people, new teachers, and even new crushes. You can almost hear “We’re All in This Together” from High School Musical playing and can easily picture yourself as Gabriella singing her way into everyone’s hearts.

The car ride to the new school could not have been any longer, and you constantly keep checking the time to make sure you’re not late. Considering you tested to get into this school last December, you are expecting everyone to be a child genius and you just don’t know where you’re going to fit into all that. You don’t think you’re stupid, but you just feel nervous about fitting in. It’s not like you didn’t have any friends in middle school, you just didn’t have friends that understood you and to make things worse no one you remotely remember talking  to would be going to this new school. The image of Gabriella slowly starts to fade as the car rolls to a stop and you peer out the window realizing life seemed better in your imagination.

The campus of Columbus High School is nestled amid an array of towering maple trees and pine trees on a hill overlooking Lake Bottom Park.  The one hundred and four year-old, three-story crimson brick building is surrounded by numerous large rectangular windows. As you walk into the side doors leading to the crowded first floor hall way, you bump into a senior who looks more than ready to graduate and quickly shoves by you before you utter a meager apology. The homeroom class you are assigned to also happens to be in the far corner of the hall and is blocked by a crowd of students engrossed in a conversation about their summer adventures. As you nudge your way past the students, your center of gravity is suddenly thrown off and you fall head first into the cold dusty floor tripping over an empty gray water bottle.  Conversation quickly dies out as a sea of shocked eyes observe the commotion. They quietly judge and hold back laughter as you scramble to retrieve your belongings, which are now tangled in the sea of legs in front of you. A manicured pair of swollen feet in brown leather sandals appears in front of you as a calm motherly voice says, “Are you alright?” You tearfully glance up and are met with a pair of concerned warm brown eyes nestled behind wavy brunette bangs. The petite woman then kneels down and proceeds to help you gather your belongings as students stare in astonishment. She then says, “You know a long time ago when I was a freshman in high school, it was almost a daily occurrence for me to trip in the halls so my nickname was stumble.” As both of you got to your feet you timidly laugh say, “Well I guess clumsy should be my new nickname.”

She then leads you into the class room and introduces herself as your homeroom teacher. As you walk in you recognize some of the students in your homeroom from your middle school but every other face is a new one showing a nervous anticipation for the upcoming school year.

The room is illuminated by three large windows towards the right side of the room and large fluorescent lights on the ceiling.  The walls are an organized chaos of posters displaying various French monuments and word pronunciations. She gracefully walked towards the front of the class room and picked up a stack of white school handbooks to hand out to everyone. As she made her way back to her desk she nearly knocked over a translucent medication box containing various pills labeled for everyday of the week and quickly packed it away in her desk drawer. You carefully glanced around the room to see if anyone in the room noticed what just happened and you locked eyes with the boy sitting next to you. He whispered, “Do you know why she has all that medicine?”  You shrugged and said, “I don’t know maybe she likes taking her vitamins on time,” but you found it peculiar that she would have such a private belonging with her at school.  As she adjusted the contents of her desk she said, “Although I may not be teaching some of you, I am eager to get to know you all.  I understand freshman year can be very challenging but if you need any help do not be afraid to ask.” She then winks at you as she says, “Even if you fall I will catch you.”

After the pledge, roll call, and standard rules for the school are said, the bell rings.  You analyze the school map and your schedule and feel like you know where your next class is, but as you wander the intimidating hallways, you overhear a senior say, “God freshmen are so stupid,” as he laughs with his friend about how inadequate and dumb the freshman are. Being lost seems a lot better than asking anyone for help right now, so you wander outside into the garden courtyard and admire the beautiful lush grass and leaning willow tree across from a suspicious fruit bearing tree you’ve never seen before. You see other freshmen lining up in front of a classroom in the hallway overlooking the courtyard and walk over to it, hoping it is the class you are supposed to be in. As the teacher welcomes everyone inside, you double check your schedule and invisibly high five yourself because you found the right class.

A sweet floral scent of roses from a red candle in the far corner wafted through the air as you made your way into the brightly lit classroom. The desks are arranged in groups of five and you take a seat in an empty chair in the back corner of the room near a dry erase board with the words Welcome to Foundations of Knowledge written in delicate cursive letters. The teacher wears an orange blouse with white polka dots and a dark blue skirt in cohesion with the school colors. She introduces herself in a striking southern accent with a corny joke about how she attended high school here and never imagined she would be colleagues with some of her former teachers.  As you daydream about High School Musical, she says, “As a Columbus High school tradition all freshmen are required to partake in an informational video project as part of our mythology unit.” She then proceeds to show the class humorous videos of students past projects and a wave of fear rips through you as you realize in the next few weeks it will be you up on the smart board making a fool of yourself, trying to teach mythology to the rest of the class.  As the bell rings, you eagerly stride out of the class and head towards the lunchroom.

The packed lunch room is filled with loud teenagers busily scarfing down food in their allotted thirty minute lunch slot. You decide to sit alone outside underneath a pine tree and wonder what your next classes would be like. A group of three vaguely familiar girls from your middle school gym class approach you and ask if they can sit with you.  One introduces herself as Gloria and points to the other girls and says “This is Jeannette and Nila.” Each of them wore a combination of brightly colored floral blouses with faded blue jeans and wore their hair in loose waves that cascaded over their shoulders. They also wore an excessive amount of makeup which made you wonder if you should have toned down your usage of mascara this morning. You feel like asking them if they are related but did not want to seem like you were poking fun at their cohesive appearance so you let that speculation slide.

“We thought you looked familiar. Did you go to Blackmon?” Jeannie asks. You nod and say, “Yes, I think you all were in my gym class but there were a lot of people so I’m not really sure.” Nila opens a blue polka dot lunch box as she says, “I remember we were on the same kickball team in seventh grade.” The four of you then reminisced about how terrible gym class was and how much you hated participating in the required games. As you swat a fly away from your face, Jeannette says, “I wish the ice age would comeback around and rescue me from this weather because honestly I can’t wait to wear all my cute scarves and boots this fall.” Gloria sighs and says, “The tragic thing about Georgia is that the weather is probably going to stay hot until mid-October so don’t bring your boots out just yet.”

Nila then turns towards you and says, “On a different note, what does your schedule look like?  We all might have a class together.” “I had the French class on the first floor for homeroom, Foundations of Knowledge second and I have Math, Biology and French next,” you say. “Bummer! We all have the same classes but at different times,” Jeannette said. “Look on the bright side at least we have lunch together,” Gloria exclaims. Nila then says, “You are going to love the French class. The teacher is super nice except, I feel like we are going to have a lot of substitutes in that class because she said she would be out of town a lot.” “Do you know why she has to leave so much?” you ask. Nila says, “I have no idea, someone tried to ask her about it but she did not go into too much detail. She just said that she has doctor’s appointments out of town.”  As you rack your brain trying to figure out why a person would leave town just to go see a doctor, the class bell suddenly rings so you and the girls hastily make plans to eat lunch together again tomorrow.

Math class and science quickly fly by and in no time it is almost the end of the school day. The last class you are headed to was French and it is the least hard to get to because you were in there earlier for homeroom. You make your way to your assigned seat and let out a teary eyes yawn as you watched other students file into class. You still could not help but feel concerned about the kind teacher that helped you earlier this morning. She stands in front of the class and excitedly speaks about how the travels she had in Canada and France inspired her to be a French teacher and fueled her desire to travel to other countries and teach. She then says, “Since this class is my last class of the day, I would like everyone to get out of their seats because we are going to play a little game to get to know each other.” She walks towards her desk and picks up a metallic Eiffel Tower figurine and says, “For this game everyone is going to have a turn holding the tower and introduce themselves in French and say one interesting thing they did over the summer. If you do not feel like your summer was very eventful then tell the class about why you decided to take French.” As she hands the figurine to the first person in the circle she says, “The easiest way to introduce yourself in French is to say bonjour then your name.”

You discretely move to the far side of the circle so that you will be the last person to speak.  Everyone awkwardly introduces themselves as you worriedly notice the teacher tiredly sit in a chair where she was previously standing and periodically get up to drink water.  When the figurine finally comes your way, you terribly butcher the pronunciation of the word bonjour then give the tower back to the teacher as you and everyone laugh. The figurine is placed back on her desk and everyone engages in light conversation as they pack up their belongings whilst they wait for the bell to ring. The teacher coughs loudly as she sits in her desk and reaches for her water bottle. You slowly raise your hand and ask, “Are you okay?” The light-hearted nature of the class quickly takes a somber turn when she says, “Well that is actually a tricky question to answer. Emotionally, I am a very happy person at least ninety nine percent of the time but physically I am unwell.  I’m not sure if many of you know but during this school year I will be absent some days out of every month because I have cancer.” Your heart sinks as she speaks about how much she admires her doctors and how the class should not worry about her because, she has had cancer for about nineteen years and just tries to live life to the fullest. A guy in the back of the class yells “Cancer sucks,” and the whole class erupts in applause as the teacher tries to calm everyone down. You wiped the tears from your eyes and admired her bravery and compassion for choosing to teach despite her difficult life circumstances. A mythology project was nothing compared to cancer.  As the bell rang, you wandered into the slightly less intimidating halls and realized high school might not be so bad after all.